Hope as Biden reverses Muslim ban during first hours of presidency

US President Joe Biden has reversed Trump’s immigration ban imposed on 13 mostly Muslim-majority countries in move that solidifies main campaign promise, writes Sheren Khalel of Middle East Eye.

Hours after US President Joe Biden was sworn into office on Wednesday, he signed an executive order to repeal the Trump-era Muslim Ban, a move analysts say sets the tone for his administration’s first term.

“I’m going to start by keeping the promises I made to the American people,” Biden said, before tackling a stack of executive orders, including the Muslim Ban.

His administration had earlier described former President Donald Trump’s most controversial policy as “xenophobia and religious animus.”

“This ban, which restricted issuance of visas to individuals from many Muslim and African countries, was nothing less than a stain on our nation,” Jake Sullivan, the incoming national security adviser, said of the ban in a briefing with reporters.

“It was rooted in xenophobia and religious animus and, President-elect Biden has been clear that we will not turn our back on our values with discriminatory bans on entry to the United States.”

Implemented in 2017 during Trump’s first week in office, the Muslim Ban initially restricted travel from seven Muslim-majority nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The ban faced several legal challenges, but the Supreme Court in 2018 upheld the final version of the measure, which covered 13 mostly Muslim-majority countries, ruling in favour of Trump’s executive power to control immigration.

Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), told Middle East Eye that this “historic moment” resulted from the collective efforts of several human rights advocates and groups that had worked to challenge the ban over the past four years.

“It’s been a struggle and it’s been a fight for our community – for the Arab community and for the Muslim community – since almost day-one of the Trump administration with this ban,” Ayoub said.

Ayoub described a great sense of relief among advocates in the Arab and Muslim community who have been fighting against the travel ban since Trump first introduced the idea.

At the time, Trump had said the travel ban was set to be a temporary 90-day initiative, but Ayoub told MEE that even then he knew it was likely to last throughout the Trump presidency.

“The concerns the Arab and Muslim community had when this ban was being signed came to fruition,” he said. “We knew this was not something temporary.”

In those first days, thousands of protesters gathered at airports across the country after reports that legal permanent US residents – green card holders – from banned countries were being detained in multiple airports. Mayors, lawmakers and other notable figures showed up at the demonstrations to voice their dissent against the ban.

“Those protests at the airport – our community won’t ever forget that support,” Ayoub said.

In July, the Democratic-led US House of Representatives also stepped up, passing a bill that sought to repeal the travel ban, but it had no hope to become law as the Republican-held Senate refused to bring the legislation up for a vote.

Khaled Beydoun, a law professor from Detroit focused on Islamophobia in the United States, told MEE that he never expected Trump’s Muslim ban to get so far. He thought it would die as a campaign promise: “I didn’t think he’d follow up with an actual order.”

While taking the time to celebrate Biden’s decision to reverse the ban and overhaul Trump’s immigration policies, Beydoun is now more sceptical of the US system and of the prospect that such a ban could re-emerge in the future.

“It’s not going to happen under a Democratic Party administration,” Beydoun said. “But if the Republican Party remains the way Trump has moulded it, then there’s a possibility it could happen again.”

“Islamophobia is not going anywhere,” he continued. “Anti-Muslim animus precedes 9/11, so the demonisation of Muslims, especially with this rise of white supremacy, that’s here to stay, socially.”

For now, Beydoun stressed that signing an order to repeal the Muslim Ban is just the first step in reversing the damage done to thousands – if not tens of thousands – who have been waiting for years to reunite with family members or to escape dire situations.

“Foreign nationals, immigrants and refugees from places like Yemen – which is on the ban, and obviously war-torn – they’ve been directly affected considerably,” Beydoun said.

“But I also have family, friends and community members from places like Yemen, Somalia and Iraq, who have been indirectly affected, because they can’t send remittances back home because of fear of being tied to terrorism.

“Families have been destroyed, disintegrated and broken up because they have a cousin or brother or a son or a daughter or a loved-one or a fiance that is stuck abroad,” he continued.

Reversing the effects of the ban will take time, as the federal bureaucracy works to sort through all the cases that had been rejected or put on indefinite hold.

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